With the exception of two women in lab coats and a buzzing console next to the chaise lounge, [Kimberly and Jonathon] Enderles' party was like any other family gathering. Drinks, snacks, friendly banter. Once the machine was ready, though, Kimberly asked husband Jonathon to corral the guests around the two monitors and hit the lights.
Suddenly there was a baby on the screen.
The techs pointed out various body parts while family members speculated on the origins of nose and cheek genes. There was cooing, commentary, and from the 3-year-old big brother-to-be, brutal honesty.
"Looks like a monster," he said. "I like monsters!"
Licensed ultrasound techs Teena Gold and Christy Foster, both members of the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, perform 3D/4D ultrasound weeknights and Saturdays around northwest Arkansas. The pair founded Baby Face and More as soon as they could afford a high-quality mobile ultrasound machine of their own. Now they charge $100-$350 to help parents indulge their craving for another glimpse of baby. Guests optional.
"Gender reveal is probably the bulk of our work," Gold said, referring to parties where parents and guests find out the gender of the unborn baby together in real time.
The Enderles weren't going for a dramatic moment; they already knew they were expecting a boy. This party was about getting a longer, less-hurried look.
"It's more of an experience and less of an in-and-out procedure," said Gold, pointing out that medical ultrasound often does not allow parents to savor the wonder of the life growing inside them.
"This way gets you out of that clinic setting," added Foster.
Whatever the parents' motivation, the ultrasound party trend appears to be spreading. From California to Florida, services like Peek a View and Miracles Imaging help expectant parents turn a procedure into a party.
But not everyone thinks taking ultrasound home is a good idea.
"It's exciting to share the experience of finding out the gender of your baby with your loved ones," said Dr. Amber Sills, an OB/GYN from Bentonville, Ark.
But there can be frightening risks, as well.
"What if the ultrasonographer started the ultrasound and there was no heartbeat?" she asked. "Or what if the fetus had not developed a skull/head/brain? This happens more than most people realize. What do you do then?"
Sills points out that ultrasounds have traditionally been used to diagnose chromosomal disorders, malformations, and to aid in estimating fetal weight or the amount of amniotic fluid -- not for entertainment value.
"Revealing gender has never been a reason to do an ultrasound," she said.
Image: Ultrasound machine, via Shutterstock